96 CONSUMING PASSIONS
It was ironic that the yuppies came to be so reviled for their vaunting ambition and outsized expectations, as if they’d invented the habit of more, when in fact they’d only inherited it the way a fetus picks up an addiction in the womb. The craving was there in the national bloodstream, a remnant of the frontier, and the baby boomers, described in childhood as “the luckiest generation,”13 found themselves, as young adults, in the melancholy position of wrestling with a two-hundred-year dependency on a drug that was now in short supply. True, the 1980s raised the clamor for more to new heights of shrillness, insistence, and general obnoxiousness, but this, it can be argued, was in the nature of a fi nal binge, the storm before the calm. America, though fi ghting the perception every inch of the way, was coming to realize that it was not a preordained part of the natural order that one should be richer every year. If it happened, that was nice. But who had started the fl imsy and pernicious rumor that it was normal?
READING THE TEXT
1. Summarize in a paragraph how, according to Shames, the frontier functions as a symbol of American consciousness.
2. What connections does Shames make between America’s frontier history and consumer behavior?
3. Why does Shames term the 1980s “an era of nostalgia” (para. 30)? 4. Characterize Shames’s attitude toward the American desire for more. How does his tone reveal his personal views on his subject?
READING THE SIGNS
1. CONNECTING TEXTS Shames asserts that Americans have been infl uenced by the frontier belief “that America would keep on booming” (para. 8). Do you feel that this belief continues to be infl uential into the twenty-fi rst century? Write an essay arguing for your position. To develop your ideas, consult John Verdant’s “The Ables vs. the Binges” (p. 152) and Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Bright- Sided” (p. 532).
2. Shames claims that, because of the desire for more, “the ethic of decency has...
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